Chocolate and music fuel Durham deejay's life

CorrespondentDecember 27, 2012 

Areli Barrera de Grodski.

COURTESY OF ARELI BARRERA DE GRODSKI

  • More information What: DSA Reunion Party, with dj birdgherl When: 9 p.m. Friday Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham Cost: $5 Details: 919-901-0875; motorcomusic.com

Two things are fueling Areli Barrera de Grodski’s career at the moment: music and chocolate. These days, those are the two things she usually has in her hands.

By day, the Tijuana, Mexico, native runs Cocoa Cinnamon, a Durham business that specializes in coffee, chocolate, tea and other cocoa-related items. Barrera de Grodski launched Cocoa Cinnamon two years ago with her husband, Leon Grodski de Barrera, after moving to Durham from Western North Carolina.

“We wanted to have a fresh start and be in a town that we thought our business would do well – and we also felt would be good for us,” says Barrera de Grodski, 27, during lunch at an Oakwood neighborhood eatery. “I guess we’re interested in the impact that the spice trade had, you know, in the world that we live in now, and just the way that we tend to forget those histories because we habitualize everything. For us, Cocoa Cinnamon is a way to revive those things and bring them back to life. So, it’s just a love for the history of spices and chocolate and coffee and even tea.”

DJ by night

But, by night, Barrera de Grodski is known by another name: dj birdgherl, freelance party starter for hire. She first got the itch to be a music spinner when she began DJing at UNC’s WXYC station in 2007. Friends and associates soon started hollering at her to work the turntables at parties and events (like the open-to-the-public, 10-year reunion party for Durham School of the Arts, happening Friday at Motorco). “I think that’s how it develops,” she says. “You put yourself out there and the people know that you DJ, and then they ask you to DJ.”

For Barrera de Grodski, it’s all about the love of getting people dancing to music they probably never thought of dancing to. “I try to play things that would make people dance,” she says. “But, at the same time, I don’t always play, like, top-40 stuff. So I get a lot of bad looks sometimes. They’re like, ‘Can you play more pop?’”

Finding her sound

When she started, Barrera de Grodski was wondering what sort of music she should be known for. “I was having a hard time pinning it down,” she says. “Because, you know, every DJ should have, like, this is what I do.” Working at WXYC has made her realize she can be all things to all people. She’s been known to play everything from reggaeton to house to old-school hip-hop to what she calls “dope lady anthems.” She also loves playing funk and soul music, but she says people in Durham aren’t really open to it. “There’s the culture of DJs that are ready to play to the crowds,” she says. “But the crowds are really hard to get.”

Thankfully, she’s found that being a lady behind the turntables hasn’t been an issue. “I don’t think that should be a part of it,” she says. “I think it’s the music that you’re playing, you know. I almost sometimes feel like there shouldn’t be any light on me when I’m doing a show. I don’t like being in the spotlight, you know.”

Barrera de Grodski is finding that she’s still has a long way to go to develop who she is musically. “I consider myself a rookie DJ right now, you know, I’m just getting my feet wet and it’s been a lot of fun,” she says. “And, again, the more I do it, the more I realize that you start developing your own signature music.”

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